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Evidence from bones and teeth

Direct measurements of bones and teeth can tell archaeologists about the species, sex and age of many animals. So with just a trowel and a ruler it is possible to piece together information and build up theories about ancient life.This page is about fallow deer found at Fishbourne Palace, one of the best Roman archaeological sites in England.

Male or female deer?


Fig. 3.2 Fallow deer skeleton. Find the astragalus bone.



Most animals species (including humans) exhibit size differences between the sexes. Males tend to be much larger than females. Archaeologists measure bones to identify the sex of an individual.

Size difference between male and female is especially  obvious in fallow deer.  The ankle bone (astragalus) is used to tell the difference between male and female deer.  The greatest length (GL) of the bone and the the breadth of the distal (Bd) are measured.  You can see these two measurements plotted the graph below. They cluster into two clear groups of larger males and smaller females.







Fig. 3.5 Scatter Chart

This kind of x y plot of one measurement against another is called a scatter plot or scatter chart. It is very useful for revealing patterns of related variables. There are more examples later in this unit.

Estimating age from tooth wear

Archaeologists find out how old animals were when they died by studying their teeth. Just like people, animals have baby teeth that fall out and are replaced by adult teeth. Adult teeth are not replaced, so they wear down with age.
When the white tooth enamel is worn away, the brown dentine becomes visible. Archaeologists look at the enamel-dentine pattern on a tooth to find out how old an animal was when it died.







When the white tooth enamel is worn away, the brown dentine becomes visible. Archaeologists look at the enamel-dentine pattern on a tooth to find out how old an animal was when it died.






Questions

1. If you found an astragulus with GL = 35 mm and BD = 22.5 mm what sex would it be?

2. How do you account for the variation within the male and female clusters?

3. Fallow deer bones found at Fishbourne Palace in Sussex were predominantly male. They appear to have been in enclosed park land in Roman times. Why might they be mostly male?

4. Why are teeth so archaeologically well preserved?

5. One of the Fishbourne deer was almost 13 years old. We don’t think the Romans milked deer, so why were they kept so long?

 


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Fig. 3.1
A fallow deer astragalus with greatest length (GL) and distal breadth (Bd) shown.





Fig. 3.3 Female fallow deer




Fig. 3.4 male fallow deer




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